And the poor Seattle Storm couldn’t even get in the front door. Tina Thompson’s 17-year WNBA career played its final act on Sunday in Tacoma, WA of all places.
Classy of both Tina and the Lynx players to gather for a post-game group photo, wasn’t it? Respect, indeed, is a two-way street.
Unfortunately, the beaten paths between Seattle and Tacoma didn’t get much of a workout as a sparse crowd of 3,457 bore witness to this event. That gate may not have been aided by Minnesota’s having recently played back-to-back games in Seattle.
The good folk of Atlanta, however, have no such excuse for the sub-4,000 turn-out at the Dream’s playoff opener against WNBA Coach of the Year Mike Thibault’s Washington Mystics. What gives?
In 2013, a little over 1.5 million paying customers attended the W’s 204 regular season tip-offs—pretty much in line with 2012’s numbers.
The breakdown by team and venue would suggest that, while a little “sizzle” will spike your road attendance, a consistent customer base demands a good piece of steak. The glitzy Sky road show sold 8,200 tickets per game but was about 20 percent less attractive to Chicagoland. And Skylar’s sunshine adds about 40 percent to the crowd at an away game for the Tulsa Shock, who sit dead last in
home attendance at fewer than 5,500 per.
The spoils of a championship did not include packed houses on foreign turf. Lin Dunn’s Indiana Fever, while fourth in the WNBA in home gate, are one of only three road crews playing before average crowds below 7,000.
As was the case at mid-season, Brittney Griner’s Phoenix Mercury drew the most fans, nearly 300,000 for their 34 games. They also top the heap in road attendance. The Merc only rank third on the home front—though their home crowds exceed their road crowds by over 350 fans on average.
Numbers may not lie, but they can get you scratchin’ your head at times.
So…let’s switch to geography for a minute.
In youth sports at its most competitive levels, where do the best teams tend to come from, the ones that stockpile national championships?
Some areas have had their eras (New York City) and their hot stretches (Seattle).
But more and more, that answer is becoming California, Arizona, Texas and certain pockets of the Midwest and South.
Take a look at this season’s leaders in WNBA home attendance: Los Angeles (9,868 per game); Minnesota (9,381), Phoenix (8,939); Indiana (8,164); and San Antonio (7,914) in spite of one of the most “hard luck” seasons in the history of professional sports.
In stark contrast to the Silver Stars stand the Seattle Storm. Brian Agler’s ballers over-achieved to a playoff level, but the absence of sure-to-be Hall of Famers Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson knocked the team’s gate appeal into the bottom third of the league. And how does an extended-day event get booked into your building at playoff time? What message does this send to your players…and to your fans? (If the high regard in which this franchise is viewed is truly deserved, the next message should be “Mea Culpa!”)
While it’s these youth-sports hot-beds that seem to promote a loyal fan base, the big city slickers are the most popular “foils.” The Washington Mystics and New York Liberty rank third and fourth respectively in road attendance.
Ever the conundrum when promoting an entity like the WNBA…how to grow from a so-called niche sport when so much of your appeal has “grassroots.”
Such matters, including a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, are in the hands of the Ackermans, Richies and Silvers of the world.
What the big-wigs have also been handed is an exceptional product—a game being played by athletes who are bigger, stronger and more well-coached than ever before.
The WNBA’s first champions, the 1997 Houston Comets, started three sub-six-footers: Kim Perrot, Cynthia Cooper and Janeth
Arcain. The slender Arcain was skilled and savvy enough to contribute at any of four positions during the course of Van Chancellor’s dynasty.
The ought-to-be Hall of Famer was listed at 5’11”.
WNBA.com’s player directory for 2013 lists more than 130 names. Only 52 of these women are sporting heights of 5’-something. That’s just about 40 percent of the players who’ve earned a roster spot this season.
When you look at each team’s most frequently utilized unit (either the five who started games most often, or the five who logged the most minutes—pretty much the same group, either way), 10 of these quintets include three (or more) six-footers. Only Connecticut
(5’10” Kalana Greene) and San Antonio (5’11” Shenise Johnson) utilized a truly “small” forward—and 6’2” Shameka Christon nearly nosed out Johnson in usage.
First-year Sun coach Anne Donovan’s roster has featured seven 5-footers (including Kara Lawson), one more than the Silver Stars (whose count includes the peerless Becky Hammon).
Rookie of the Year Elena Delle Donne, though the second tallest member of the Sky, plays as a wing—a shot-blocking wing, mind you. Even the most old-school of fans would have to admit that those 77 inches and that skill set would be a match even for ol’ Janeth’s
bag of tricks.
But, hey! Do not such generational debates and discussions lend credence to the league’s on-court vitality?
Well, I’m one step ahead of a shoe-shine,
Two steps away from the county line,
Just tryin’ to keep my customer satisfied!!
Remember a fella named Paul Simon…used to work with a lanky dude named Art?